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Posts Tagged ‘Tarell Alvin McCraney’

This play is the second part of a trilogy but was the first to be produced here ten years ago, with part one, In the Red & Brown Water, a year later. We’ve yet to see the third. Playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney has had a couple of other plays at the Royal Court, Wig Out! and Choir Boy, but is most famous for his 2016 Oscar winning film Moonlight. This is a very early revival by the same creative team, led by director Bijan Sheibani.

The Size brothers are reunited when younger brother Oshoosi leaves prison and stays with elder brother Ogun, working with him in his car repair business. A visit from Oshoosi’s fellow prisoner Elegba, a bad influence, threatens the bond between them and their up-and-down relationship is played out before us over 80 minutes. It’s staged without set or props within a chalk circle marked out at the beginning, with red chalk thrown on the floor within it. The actors often announce entrances and exits and other stage directions direct to the audience and there’s very stylised movement and an atmospheric soundtrack. It’s very compelling, even hypnotic and mesmerising, though the apparent Yoruba mythology went over my head and I struggled a bit with the Louisiana dialect.

The three performances are captivating. Anthony Welsh as Elegba is excellent; he was in the original production. Sope Dirisu, after his Cassius Clay in One Night in Miami and Coriolanus for the RSC, continues to impress as Ogun. Newcomer Jonathan Ajayi is hugely impressive as Oshoosi, transitioning from ex-con to childlike young brother as the story unfolds.

It’s good to see it again, ahead of its time now as it was then. It’s a very short run, so catch it while you can.

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Do schools like this really exist in the US? Somehow, it’s difficult to identify with the Charles R Drew school – an American all-black public school. If you replaced Pharus, Bobby, Junior, Anthony & David with  Tarquin, Justin, Oliver, Henry & Julian, you could be at a British public school (though I confess I do not have personal experience). It all feels a bit otherworldly and incongruous.

We only have five boys in Ultz’ extraordinary wood-paneled school, so we have to use our imagination (helped by a configuration which involves the audience, with the boys seated amongst us on occasion). In the attic space of the Royal Court Upstairs, he’s also fitted in a bedroom and changing room and the play really does happen all around you.

School life involves sport, a famous choir, some bullying, politics…..just like any old school really. Pharus leads the choir; he’s effeminate and gay and his relationships with his fellow pupils are complicated, particularly with the headmaster’s nephew with whom he has a power struggle. An old master is brought back to teach creative thinking, though what this contributes I’m not sure. In fact, I’m not really sure what playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney is trying to say at all. It’s a slice-of-life play that doesn’t really go anywhere and takes a long time not to do so.

Having said that, Dominic Cooke’s production is terrific, largely due to five superb performances from the boys – Dominic Smith, Eric Kofi Abrefa, Kwayedza Kureya, Khali Best & Aron Julius – two of them 2012 drama school graduates (one making his professional debut) and one still studying A-levels! The two adults, Gary McDonald & David Burke, don’t get a look in. In addition to acting, they sing as well as any young choristers I’ve ever heard. The use of music is indeed one of the play’s strengths.

Despite the fact that it didn’t seem to go anywhere, I was engaged for the duration, impressed by the creativity and staging and in awe of the talent.

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